Pvt. Virgil A. Stewart, Co. A, 8th Georgia Infantry, Recalls the Battle

2 09 2011

It was on a bright, beautiful Sunday morning that one of the world’s most remarkable battles was fought. Gens. Gustave T. Beauregard and Jos. E. Johnston were the Confederate leaders, and Gen. Winfield Scott commander of the Northern army. Jefferson Davis was on the field, cheering the hosts in gray. It was here that Gen. Thos. J. Jackson got his nickname “Stonewall.” Francis S. Bartow, colonel of the Eighth Georgia Regiment, had our command, and Gen. Bernard E. Bee was also there, with his South Carolina battalions.

Predictions had been made by the Washington contingent that the flag that carried in its folds the love of these hotly patriotic Southerners would be furled forever. A large crowd of spectators came out from Washington in their fine carriages, with nice lunches and plenty to drink in celebration of the expected Union victory, and the festivities were to be continued that night in the capital.

The tides of battle surged back and forth. Units of the Southern army were cut to pieces, and the remnants retreated. Seeing some men turning to the rear, the gallant Bee shouted, “Look at Jackson there; he is standing like a stone wall!” The men rallied. Reinforcements for us came up, and by 3 o’clock in the afternoon the rout of the Union army was complete. Beauregard and Johnston wanted to push on to Washington in the hope of ending the war, but Davis said no.

Practically half of the Eighth’s 1,000 Georgians fell dead or wounded, or were captured or lost. The Fourth Alabama was also well decimated. Bartow led his men to an exposed eminence which was too hot to hold.

When the command to retire was given, I did not hear it, and soon found myself with none but dead and wounded around me. I fell back to a thicket and met Jim Tom Moore, who said he did not know where were the rest of the men. Ike Donkle sang out, “Rally, Rome Light Guards!” About a dozen came out of the thicket and were immediately fired upon by a regiment in a protected position. The Romans returned the fire, then fell back to cover. My hat and coat were well riddled, but my skin was untouched.

Among our dead were Jas. B. Clark, Dr. J. T. Duane, a native of Ireland, who had come to Rome only a few years before and opened a dental office; Geo. T. Stovall, a bachelor, superintendent of the First Methodist Church Sunday School, and perhaps the most beloved young man in the town; Charles B. Norton, a clothing merchant, and D. Clinton Hargrove, a lawyer, my uncle and a brother of Z. B. Hargrove. Charlie Norton was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Norton and a brother of Mrs. Wm. M. Towers. Among our wounded were M. D. McOsker and L. T. (“Coon”) Mitchell,* son of Dan’l. R. Mitchell, one of the four founders of Rome.

When Charlie Norton was shot, he pitched forward and fell across me, for I was on my knees firing. He was the first Light Guard member to be killed. It was a horrible sight; men falling all around, some dying quickly and the others making the day hideous with their groans. Considering that so many were our boyhood friends, it was all the harder to bear.

Bartow fell mortally wounded, and was attended by Dr. H. V. M. Miller. A short time previously he was attempting to rally his men. Frenzied at his heavy loss, he seized a flag from the hands of a color bearer. It happened that these were the colors of a South Carolina unit under Bee. The incident was noticed by Bee, who rushed up and snatched the colors from Bartow. Bee also lost his life in this fight. Had he and Bartow been spared, it is quite likely they would have fought a duel.

As the Eighth Georgia marched off the field at the conclusion of the battle, Gen. Beauregard saluted and cried: “I salute the Eighth Georgia with my hat off. History shall never forget you!”

Capt. Magruder received two wounds at First Manassas. Later, at Garnett’s farm, near Richmond, he was wounded twice on the same day. Part of his nose and right jaw were torn away, and his shoulder was badly shot. Having had his face bandaged, he was rushing back to the front when a middle-aged man in homespun suit and broad-brimmed hat stopped him and said:

“Major, you are more seriously wounded than you realize. You must take my carriage and go to the hospital.”

Capt. Magruder pushed on abruptly, telling the man to mind his own business. A soldier who saw the meeting asked Capt. Magruder a moment later if he knew it was Jefferson Davis he was talking to. Capt. Magruder turned quickly and apologized, explaining that nearly all the officers had been incapacitated or captured, and that he must take command. He went through the thickest of the fight, fainted and was borne from the field. After a while he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. At Petersburg he was wounded twice; once slightly and suffered a broken arm. Surgeons insisted on amputation but he refused and his elbow was always stiff thereafter. He was sent to “Frescati,” the Magruder homestead in Virginia, which he had helped put in order to receive his wounded comrades.

George M. Battey, Jr., A History of Rome and Floyd County, pp 142-144

Contributed by reader Rick Allen

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4 responses

3 09 2011
Brian Kammerer

Thank you Rick Allen for a most excellent letter. The Magruder incident is just fabulous. The names and hometown positions of those fallen…poignant.

8 09 2011
Rick Allen

Brian, you are very welcome.

1 07 2012
randall swaney

I just purchased a very old water color of the Ga 8th regiment flag and was wondering if it is a copy of a famous painting or it may just be an original painting done after the civil war. I have been trying to find pictures of that flag or pictures of the painting but have been unable to find any. If you have information I would appreciate it. Thank you so much! Randall Swaney

2 07 2012
Harry Smeltzer

I have no knowledge of the flag myslef. I do know a couple of flag experts – if you want to send me a photo I can send it to them and see what they have to say.

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